The Thunder of Nautilus

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James had received a phone call from David New Year’s morning to inform him that he’d booked a flight and hotel for the next day. After Marie and James said goodbye to Justin at the airport and returned to the flat, James finally told Marie about the Rebecca problem. Marie told James that she wished he’d told her earlier, and James apologized for his silence, saying that he’d wanted her to enjoy the holidays without worry. She told him that she appreciated the consideration, but felt something was wrong from the moment he’d picked her up at the airport. At least now she knew that her worry was not just paranoia, and she asked him what he was going to do. He told her about David’s idea to fly to New York and use the element of surprise to confront Rebecca. He explained that his father had created an account from which he could transfer the money anytime, but he had no clue how Rebecca envisioned exchanging the paintings for the money because she hadn’t contacted him since that day at the restaurant.

Marie felt frustrated that she couldn’t help James, and although she knew it was futile, she still opined that the woman must have more than one screw loose, and that it was impossible to guarantee that she’d give the paintings back after she received the money, and it couldn’t work the other way round since even a nut like her would make sure she got the money first. James agreed, but told her to stop worrying, and she said that was impossible and made him promise to let her know about further developments immediately, not a week later. Later that afternoon, James took her to the station, from where she departed for Wiltshire and the cottage. Above all, she missed her dog, very much.

James and David took an early flight to New York the next day, and when they arrived they freshened up at the hotel, then ordered a cab to take them to Rebecca’s apartment.

As it turned into a one-way street, the taxi came to a halt before a yellow tape that indicated a crime scene, and the driver apologized and said that this was as far as he could take them, but the address was just on the other side of the tape. James paid the driver and asked David to wait. James walked up to a uniformed cop and said he was going to visit a woman by the name of Rebecca Noland, who lived in the apartment block that had been sealed off. The policeman asked James his name, and after he had told him, the cop said politely, “Would you please come with me, sir?” He lifted the tape and guided James to a man in a cheap suit. “This is James Goodman. He says he knows the victim.”

“Mr. Goodman?” the man said. “I’m Detective John Gray. What’s your relationship to the victim?”

Astonished, James asked, “What victim?”

“I’m sorry—I thought you just told Officer Brown that you know a woman by the name of Rebecca Noland.” Gray said.

James replied, “Yes, I know her. Is she all right?”

The detective looked at James judiciously and said, “No, Mr. Goodman, she’s not all right. I’m sorry to inform you that she was murdered.”

James took a minute to compute, and then said, “Murdered? God, how?”

Gray said unemotionally, “The how is not too difficult to figure out, but the why and who is a bit trickier.” The detective then asked James again about his affiliation to the victim.

James inhaled deeply and said, “She’s an artist I promoted in England, and she stole two very valuable paintings from my gallery. She blackmailed me, saying she’d destroy the paintings if I didn’t pay her, or if I involved the police. I just arrived from London in order to get the paintings back. I was ready to give her the money she’d asked for, but first and foremost I had to ensure that I’d get the paintings back unharmed.”

Detective Gray looked at James with the detached expression of a homicide cop and said, “This is significant, Mr. Goodman. Would you mind coming with me to the station? I have a few more questions.”

James, still shocked, said, “I don’t mind, but I’m not alone. I hired a private investigator.”

Detective Gray, pointing towards David, asked, “Is that him?”

“Yes—his name is David Jones.”

David and James were driven in a police van to the precinct, and although the admitting officer, who was barely out of diapers and evidently ignorant, treated them like criminals, Detective Gray remained professional and civil at all times. After he’d shown them into his office, he told them they were not suspects, but this was after all a murder investigation, and their arrival in New York was being checked. The detective then asked all sorts of questions, and after James showed him photos of the stolen art on his laptop, he had printouts made and ordered that Rebecca’s flat be searched for the paintings. They were not found.

David and James were released a few hours later, after they’d given the detective details of a contact in London and after the coroner had confirmed that the victim had died hours before their arrival in the United States. However, Gray declared that it stood to reason there was a connection between the extortion attempt and her murder, and that he would personally make sure the search for the paintings would continue. The detective did not tell them at the time that a neighbor had observed a man she’d seen before—and was able to describe—exiting the victim’s apartment in great haste that morning, leaving the entry door open. Hours later, when she saw that the door to Rebecca’s flat was still open, she had gone inside, found the body, and then informed the police. A sketch artist drew a picture of the man fleeing the scene, with the help of the woman’s description, and it soon became apparent that it fit a known forger by the name of Hank Preston, who previously had been convicted and who became the main suspect in the murder investigation of Rebecca Noland. An all-points bulletin was issued.

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